Schools across the country are rolling out iPads, so we caught up with a few of the frontrunners to find out how they've managed it and see how they're getting on
A classroom full of iPads or iPod touches isn't the future: it's happening right now at schools up and down the country. From Kent and Somerset in the south all the way up to the reaches of Scotland and Northern Ireland, Apple's gear is being embraced by teachers, parents and schoolkids alike.
At the forefront is Apple Distinguished Educator Fraser Speirs, who's overseen the rollout of iPads to every pupil at Cedars School of Excellence in Scotland, and doing so has completely transformed the classroom, enabling the school to tailor learning to the needs of individual children.
"We combined several classes together to teach the kids about the water cycle. They were told to go and find out about it using the iPad, then come back and show that they understood it," Speirs explains. "So some wrote about it, some drew animations, another took a screenshot of the Maps app and annotated it," he continues.
And the exciting thing is that the iPad's potential is growing all the time, thanks to the ever-increasing number of apps. "Over the year we've had it, the iPad has become more capable," Speirs enthuses. "I can now use it for HTML editing in computer classes – a year ago there wasn't an HTML editor, now there are several. So as we in the school get better, the iPad gets better."
Providing an iPad to every child in a school may seem like an expensive undertaking, but Speirs is at pains to stress just how cost-effective the iPad is. "A ballpark figure for the cost of the iPads is roughly £12.50 per pupil per month over three years – now when you divide that cost over the budgets of seven or eight departments, look at the value that device delivers. It's changed the school in ways we couldn't imagine and there have been much deeper savings than we'd expected," he explains.
"It's a mistake to look at the iPad as a way for a school to save money on textbooks," Speirs says. "You have to think about the cost of art materials, science equipment, classroom toys for the youngest kids, pens and paper even. So many things that used to be equipment we needed to buy are now software for the iPad."
Even if a school can't or doesn't wish to cover the full cost of providing iPads across the board, there are other options. Longfield Academy in Kent is rolling out 1,400 iPads as part of an opt-in scheme, with the help of monthly parental contributions and a £5,000 grant from the e-Learning Foundation.
The organisation's chief executive, Valerie Thomson, says that the level of take-up from parents shows just how popular the iPad is. "Quite a lot of the cost will come from the parents at Longfield. They could have said no, but there's been a tremendous uptake – about 60% already and they still haven't heard back from everyone," she tells us. "Parents can see the relevance for coursework and other work, so they've completely bought into it.
"iPads do everything that a laptop can do, plus they start up much more quickly – if you've only got 40 minutes to get 30 children into a classroom, focused and learning, you don't want to be waiting for slow laptops to boot up and log on," she says. "And when you have different abilities in your classroom, you can tailor what different children are doing to their abilities. As long as the teachers are as good as the children at understanding the possibilities of what the iPads can do, the opportunities are endless."
At Wallace High School, near Belfast in Northern Ireland, Apple Distinguised Educator David Cleland is overseeing the introduction of 500 iPads. The school says it chose the device because it helped create a seamless transition between working at school and at home.
The iPad's not the only option when it comes to using iOS in education, though. While the iPhone's difficult, due to the need to make ongoing contract or pay-as-you-go payments, several schools have bought their pupils an iPod touch each.
The Taunton Academy in Somerset recently bought 60 iPads for use in class, but got a further 600 iPod touches to give out to its pupils. Interestingly, the headteacher pointed out that the cost of the touches was about the same as buying 60 computers.
Essa Academy in Bolton has also gone down the iPod touch route, buying in an incredible 900.
As schools up and down the country buy into the possibilities of iOS, Fraser Speirs believes this is only the beginning.
"Lots of the teachers have been saying, 'Wouldn't it be good if you could easily get your iPad screen on the classroom TV?' With iOS 5 and AirPlay mirroring, you can. The kids will be able to take over the TV, too," he says. "iCloud will let me keep backups of the kids' iPads without having to sync them to the classroom iMacs. I'll be able to hand over more control of the iPads to the kids, knowing they'll have a good backup."
Speirs' enthusiasm for the iPad is infectious, and as he continues to advise schools across the land, you may see tablets appearing at schools near you.